An uptick in offense

Experienced backfield, O-line look to lead the way for Alpena

News File Photo Alpena running back Logan Guthrie breaks free for a gain against Ogemaw Heights during a September 2016 football game at Wildcat Stadium. Guthrie and the Wildcats return plenty of experience to the backfield this season and will be looking to improve on last season when Alpena rushed for more than 2,600 yards.

After a busy offseason where the Alpena football program made it a goal to get bigger, faster and stronger, the Wildcats look like a team ready to take a big step forward in 2017.

Alpena will be in its second season under head coach Aaron Sims who has helped the program develop a new attitude and sense of confidence heading into this season.

Sims will have plenty of talent returning on the offensive side of the ball. Alpena returns several key pieces to a bigger offensive line and two of the Big North Conference’s top rushers, along with a third-year starter under center.

“I think you’ll see a nice uptick offensively. I don’t want to make any guarantees or estimates of what we’ll look like, but I think you will see a nice uptick in production from our offense,” Sims said. “We definitely have some girth on the offensive line. We have big, athletic guys who can move on the offensive line so it’s going to be huge.”

Alpena’s average size of its offensive line will be an impressive 6-2, 305 pounds. Seniors Ian Smith, Zach Auger and Lee Babcock will likely see time on the line, along with junior Zac Cramer.

Behind the line, Alpena’s offense will be run by senior quarterback Lars MacArthur who will be the teams signal caller for the third consecutive season.

In the backfield, the Wildcats return senior Alex Arch who ran for over 1,000 yards last season and junior Logan Guthrie. The duo finished as the top two rushers in the conference and have put in the work during the offseason and look determined to build on solid seasons a year ago.

“It’s going to be exciting to watch our backs and I know they’re excited about that development piece. The backs are definitely faster and stronger than what they were last year and we also have some talent coming up from the JV team that are going to add some speed and competition in the backfield and that’s really going to help us,” Sims said. “I think we are going to have a lot of fun on offense and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch if it clicks like I think it will.”

Along with Alpena’s size, speed and athleticism on the offensive line and in the backfield, the Wildcats already have a full season of Sims’ Wing-T offense under their belt and for the first time in six years, the team will not have to learn a new playbook and has stability in the program.

“Coming back for a second year is huge and that’s where I think you’ll see a lot of the uptick because the guys are starting to remember this stuff and it’s going to propel us further as far as what we can do and what we know. We are going to be much further ahead week one than we were last year at this time,” Sims said. “Gaining that strength and getting a nice push off the ball is always going to help and now that the backs have transitioned from receivers to backs in the T they know what to expect, they know they’re going to get pounded, but we need to be tough. Re-learning everything and refreshing on some things along with being better athletes I think will end up being a nice thing for us.”

The first year was yet another learning process under a new offense. Alpena began the season 2-1 and combined for 89 points in three games, but failed to win a game the rest of the way, dropping its final six games.

The Wildcats will be tested in the season opener when they play an Escanaba team who held them to just eight points last year. Alpena also picked up non-conference games against Ypsilanti Community and a regular season finale at powerhouse Chelsea.

“Overall we want to just make sure we’re strong, physical, violent and execute. Those are the things that we are always going to work on and once we know what we’re doing we can execute with speed and precision,” Sims said. “We’re just refining the basics and making sure we can make adjustments and variations at the line of scrimmage or on the sidelines. We are going to communicate and make sure we know what we’re doing and if there’s no confusion we can go really fast and it should be fun.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.